I’d heard it said that there are as many flavors of honey as there are types of flowers, but I didn’t quite believe it until I did a honey tasting. Not only did lavender honey taste different from orange blossom honey, a few various brands of lavender honey tasted different from each other!
This makes sense since the bees suck the nectar from flowers and transform that nectar into honey. So, for example, if the bees have fed on linden blossoms, the resulting honey will taste quite different from honey produced by bees who’ve fed on clover. But it’s also true that the blossoms from different linden trees are going to result in nuances of honey flavor, so no two batches of honey are alike–unless you’re speaking of generic honeys that are blended from various sources for uniform flavor.
So, it turns out that fine honeys deserve a kind of connoisseurship and respect normally reserved for chocolate and wine. Like wine varietals, each type and batch of honey has a unique flavor and texture, and trying to distinguish one from the next can be a daunting task. Two general rules apply: the darker the honey, the stronger the taste and, the more liquid the honey, the more fragrant. (If honey thickens or becomes crystallized on standing, place the jar in a pot of warm water and heat it very gently, stirring from time to time, until the honey returns to the liquid state. Alternatively, heat it in short stints, uncovered, in a microwave on low power.)
In some cases, I learned that an imported honey with an especially fine reputation wasn’t necessarily worth a premium price. In other instances, I was blown away by honeys I’d never heard of before. Experiment until you find your favorites. Indeed, it’s fun to keep a few varieties on hand so you can show off each to best advantage—one to cook with, one to dribble over cheese and serve for dessert, one to sweeten tea, and one to savor on its own, a teaspoon at a time.
Here are tasting notes on the types and some brands I thought were worth seeking out. They are all available on line and many are stocked in gourmet shops.
Buckwheat (US) Dark, earthy, rich flavor loved by some and hated by others. Use it when a strong taste is welcome, such as with pancakes, muffin, or honey cake.
Chestnut (Italy) Dark, woodsy, strong taste with mushroom undertones. Drizzle over gorgonzola cheese; use as glaze for chicken or pork
Lavender (France and CA) Medium-amber, floral and perfumed, delicate. Use in baked goods or granola where delicate flavor can come through
Leatherwood (Tasmania, Australia) This one blew me away. Outstanding burst of spicy and flavor; hint of menthol. If you’re only going to buy one honey, but this one! Drizzle over vanilla icecream or savor from a teaspoon
Linden (Germany) Complex flavor with earthy undertones. Good all-purpose honey for spreading on bread and sweetening tea
Rewarewa (New Zealand) Dark amber; intensely fruity. Delicious in baked goods, especially nice as a glaze on cookies. No wonder: Take a look below, right at the flower the bees feed on.
Thyme (Greece) Bright amber, pungent aroma, floral undertones. Delightful for sweetening yogurt.
Wild Oak (Spain/Catalonia) Dark, woodsy, earthy, floral. My second favorite after Leatherwood. Use for honey cake, cookies, or granola.